Slade School of Fine Art
University College London
Katrina Palmer's artistic practice includes writing and exhibition making. Palmer produces written compositions and locates objects, bodies, and voices as covert material presences in narrativized contexts. Using an expanded conceptualisation of sculpture, she explores the edges of language, focusing on uncanny physical displacements, marginalisation and absence. This work often results in confrontations with holes.
Palmer is the Artist in Residence at The National Gallery 2024. Among her solo exhibitions are What’s Already Going On (Mead Gallery 2023); Hello (England’s Creative Coast 2021); The Coffin Jump (Yorkshire Sculpture Park 14-18NOW, 2018); The Necropolitan Line (Henry Moore Institute 2015); End Matter (Artangel, BBC Radio 4, Book Works 2015). Her publications include Black Slit and The Dark Object (Book Works, 2023 2010), and contributions to Documents of Contemporary Art, (Whitechapel/MIT 2013 2021). Palmer was a recipient of the Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists (2014).
Through a re-thinking of sculptural practice, I do not focus on the production of objects, instead orchestrating the confrontation with absences, situating the viewer at borders and limit points, seeking not to dominate space, but the careful, risky negotiation of territory.
I refer to structural constraints and limiting assumptions (whether physical, internalised, political, structural, or disciplinary) through the description and production of voids and recesses, that are a key feature of my practice. This spatial organisation creates a set of conditions for the individual, an encounter with liminality or facing the edge and inhabiting the margin around the absent centre. The early publications and installations (The Dark Object, 2010, The Fabricator’s Tale 2014, and Reality Flickers 2013) are set in constraining structures that define absences. The Necropolitan Line (2014, End Matter 2015 and The Coffin Jump 2018, featured the confrontation with edges and unsettled ground, enabling the exploration of vulnerability, uncertainty, risk and loss. Similarly, Hello (Shoeburyness, 2021) faced the UK’s coastal border. As approaching precarious boundaries and negotiating voids are a critical experiential element of this work, my Mead exhibition What’s Already Going On (2023), explored the edges of language and of the gallery space, focusing on uncanny physical displacements and social absences, including marginalisation. In this respect, an overarching interest is in testing the delimitations of what sculpture is presumed to be and do; a concern which intersects productively with the politics of the representation of bodies and voices in the social space.
In January 2021 I joined Slade where I am currently Head of Undergraduate Sculpture.
I have a sustained commitment to artistic practice PhD supervision.
Prior to Slade:
2014-2016 I was at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford with a Randall McIver Junior Research Fellowship while I also taught at Ruskin on the undergrad and DPhil programmes.
2016-2018 I worked on the BA at Central Saint Martins.
In 2018 I returned to University of Oxford, Ruskin School of Art as Associate Professor and MFA co-Leader.
What's already going on 2023 - Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre
What’s Already Going On is an environment composed of overlapping spatial configurations of the Gallery and the University. A series of corridors channel the audience around a central void. Through makeshift walls, reference is made to contemporary structures that are built for transitory use. In moving around the space, the audience is situated in close proximity to the perimeter of the gallery, looking into rooms through narrow openings, discovering doors that open partially, and others that are shut. Here Palmer pursues her interest in the capacity to change your path and how we confront structural constraints, or internalised resistance, preventing the transgression of dominant ways of thinking, imagining and being. An eight screen video displays documentary footage of knife throwing practice in a University office at night. The corridors display 75 drawings of lines. Continuing Palmer’s process of de-centring, or diverting the sense of what’s important, her writing practice is here replaced with cursive movements; throwing sheets, propelling a knife, moving pens, working with momentum, flow and interruption, forces and responses, while simultaneously shifting the focus from the centre of the space.
Hello and Retreat 2021 - Shoeburyness, England’s Creative Coast with Turner Contemporary and Metal Southend
A co-commission for Turner Contemporary (Margate) and Metal (Southend), as part of England’s Creative Coast, Waterfronts Projects. This project elaborates my research through a phenomenological investigation, in other words, it investigates the consciousness of experiences, in this case, a protagonist articulates a less determined sense of belonging in response to English seaside culture with its attendant material structures and particular uses of language.
The work is sited in Southend and Shoeburyness, a part of the English coast in close proximity to Europe, the site of historic MOD defensive structures and contemporary weapons testing. Hello, a reproduction of a 'sound mirror', is an originally defensive structure subverted by a welcome message. This work is now part of the permanent collection of Southend Borough Council.
Retreat, a sign on a military ruin, hyperlinks to a website where a short story and audio-visual works detail the faltering attempt to make the English language flow in describing the act of walking. Drawing on absurd literature, identity is articulated here as a restless back and forth movement. The experience of walking along the pier towards the horizon, while falling out-of-step, is annotated and deployed as an analogy throughout, representing being-with-others in an apparent forward movement that always-already has to return. The oscillation between private and public space, or imaginary forms and external reality, is examined here; the practice of constructing and sustaining objects in the mind to form interior worlds is revealed as on-going and critical to the subject who negotiates the social space with varying degrees of immersion.
The Coffin Jump 2018 - Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Leeds
As part of the UK's arts programme for the First World War centenary, The Coffin Jump is co-commissioned by Yorkshire Sculpture Park and 14-18 NOW, to highlight women?s role in WWI, with specific reference to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY).
Located at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the work is presented across a variety of media, including a 10-metre long trench, an inscribed fence, a sign post, an ad-hoc stage/viewing platform, an intermittent archive recording of a woman's voice and a live performance. The distributed elements of this narrative situation unfold through the audiences' negotiation of objects, actions and words that, used as signs, intervene and start to undo the apparently static nature of the work, notifying action, culminating in the fleeting presence of the live performer: a woman on horseback, who jumps the fence. The Coffin Jump responds to a period during which women leapt forward and entered the social space in new ways, overcoming obstacles and lack of recognition, to emerge as a vital force. Drawing on the context of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the riders are women from a local community of cross-country eventers. Phrases on the front of the fence, including WOMAN SAVES MAN, are collaged from Palmer's research notes into the FANY's work on the front line. Citing FANY member Muriel Thompson's WWI diaries, the back of the fence is inscribed NOTHING SPECIAL HAPPENED. Used repeatedly in Thompson's writing, this ambiguous phrase alludes to long periods of mundanity, while simultaneously suggesting that the women had to take the sudden impact of violent action, in their stride. An archive audio recording of Clara Butt singing The Enchantress (1917), in her deep contralto tones, signals the entrance of horse and rider at the Park and their approach to the fence. A reinterpretation of an original WWI public warning poster is situated on a signpost adjacent to the fence and trench. Its images and language are appropriated, replacing the danger of German aircraft, with the perceived threat of emergent women.
An illustrated publication to accompany the exhibition includes texts by Tamsin Dillon, Lisa Le Feuvre and Helen Pheby, published October 2018.
The work is now part of the YSP permanent collection.
The Time-Travelling Circus: The Recent Return of Pablo Fanque and the Electrolier 2018 - Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin
Solo exhibition at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin.
The floor of the Gallery is overlaid with an architectural floor plan that indicates the Brotherton Library Reading Room as an alternative physical space. In addition, a recording of the relative silence of the Reading Room is played alongside a densely layered wall text and a spoken word audio work on headphones. The audio narrative is compiled in multiple tenses and accrued perspectives. Continuing the overarching project's research into the relationship between objects and words in the mind, the audience is invited to construct the work through a process of reading and listening, developing the imagined space, sustaining the characters and the dislocated transfiguring forms that feature in the work, including the chandelier/Electrolier and the Reading Room dome/circus big top.
The Time-Travelling Circus project is realised across a variety of media and locations. This work explores the production of imagined material situations, alongside the gathering of historical and circumstantial detail through a story that features William Darby (1810 - 1871). Also known as Pablo Fanque, this celebrated equestrian became the UK?s first black circus proprietor. Pablo?s first wife, Susannah Darby, died in 1848 when the circus collapsed, during a performance. Both are buried in St George?s Field, a small cemetery next to the Brotherton Library, at the centre of the University of Leeds. In Palmer?s project, the revolving acts and temporary edifices of the Time-Travelling Circus, are a refuge for dead or displaced performers who, out of time and space, remain suspended in the benign purgatory of their routines. When Pablo travels through time to find an alternative version of reality in which Susannah survives her accident, she re-materialises as the Electrolier (the chandelier) at the centre of the domed ceiling in the Brotherton Library, to where the narrative repeatedly returns. Readers and listeners are invited to draw an analogy between the Library dome and a circus 'big top'. Provided with a set of instructions, they undertake a sculptural reading process, constructing objects in their minds. The subversive circus context is exploited as an opportunity to experiment with different tempos and colliding voices. Attentive to the itinerant but recurring nature of circus edifices and performances, the project includes themes of memorialisation, re-enactment and the evocation of objects through storytelling.
Events associated with this exhibition include: Artist Talk: Katrina Palmer in conversation with David Crowley, Head of Visual Culture, National College of Art and Design, Temple Bar Gallery 22 February 2018 Time Travel - A Conversation: writer and researcher Nathan O'Donnell with Poet and physicist Iggy McGovern, Temple Bar Gallery, 3 April 2018. Press includes: Review by Declan Long, Art Forum May 2018 Interview by Rachel Donnelly, Totally Dublin 31st March 2018 Review by Aidan Kelly-Murphy, This Is Tomorrow 27th March 2018 Review by Aidan Dunne, Irish Times 7th March 2018
The three stories are flattened 2016 - Void, Derry (Londonderry)
For her exhibition with Void, Palmer exhibited ‘Reality Flickers’ (The Arts Council of England Collection), ‘The Fabricator’s Tale’ (Blood-Bespattered Table) and ‘Now Landscape’ a new work originally produced for Void.
The works employ installed audio recordings using her own voice, images and found objects. Visceral, violent, sensual, humorous and melodramatic, Palmer’s narratives collide fiction, history and the everyday to construct unsettling environments that examine bodily presence, absences, memorial and death.
The Necropolitan Line 2015 - Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
THE NECROPOLITAN LINE A solo exhibition commissioned for the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, an internationally recognised research centre for the study of sculpture, including galleries, a library and archive alongside a prestigious programme of historical and contemporary exhibitions.
The Necropolitan Line featured a reproduction of a platform that spanned three rooms and incorporated thermoplastic lines, tactile paving and steel benches all of which were accessible and utilised by the public. The galleries were dimly lit by a series of lightboxes containing found photographs of semaphore signals. These signals, alongside luminous yellow handrails, a map, an intermittent headlamp and continuous announcements on elevated tannoy speakers, guided visitors through the space. Referencing the film Brief Encounter, the audio through the tannoy was developed with the motif from Rachmaninov's Concerto No.2, over which pre-recorded announcements gave the public fragmented information about departures, deaths and goodbyes. The final room incorporated the Institution?s goods lift: passengers, invited in by a blown whistle, travelled down in the lift to the tune of 'Is That All There Is?' and were promptly expelled on to the street at the end of their journey. As part of the exhibition, a free newspaper The Line was produced and presented in a stack. The articles, written by Palmer, investigated stories about bodies, loss and displacement with reference to the historic Necropolitan Line that ran between London and Brookwood Cemetery (1854 to 1941) and Crossbones Graveyard, an ancient unconsecrated burial ground for the prostitutes next to London Bridge.
This project articulates the rejection of unwanted bodies and elaborates Palmer's enquiry into the use of writing as a form of sculpture by exploring how, contrary to the commonplace notion of sculpture as a mass of material, absence, and the dislocation of matter can be inherent to its logic.
Press coverage: 'The Sound Of Absence: Katrina Palmer And The Dialogue Between Sculpture And Narration', interview by Giulia Simi, Digicult Magazine, August, 2016 'Marooned at a tangent to the everyday': review by Bridget Penney, 3:am Magazine, February 13th, 2016 'Katrina Palmer, The Necropolitan Line', review by Daniel Potts, Aesthetica Magazine, February 2016 'Katrina Palmer's The Necropolitan Line', review by Jack Welch, The Double Negative, January 2016 'This week's exhibitions', Oliver Basciano, The Guardian, 5th December 2015.
An accompanied live reading, The Uncoupling, took place at the HMI 10/2/2016. During 2016 a series of artist?s talks and workshops were given at the following institutions: Eastside Projects, Birmingham (10/2016); University of Reading (10/2016); Temple Bar Gallery and Studios Dublin, Ireland (9/2016) Goldsmiths College, University of London (6/2016) and on-site at the Henry Moore Institute (2/2016); Chelsea School of Art, London (5/2016); University of Arts, Helsinki (4/2016); Royal College of Art, London (4/2016); Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam (4/2016); Northumbria University (3/2016); Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design (3/2016).
End Matter/ The Quarryman's Daughters / The Loss Adjusters 2015 - Artangel with BBC Radio 4, Portland and London, UK
Commissioned by Artangel, London, and BBC Radio 4, this project combines an audio walk and installation The Loss Adjusters on the island of Portland (Dorset, 2015) with an authored publication End Matter (Book Works, London 2015) and a broadcast The Quarryman?s Daughters for Radio 4 (May 2015).
Palmer was resident on Portland in order to generate the work that evolved through exploratory walks across the intensively quarried landscape, photography, the collection of environmental and archival audio recordings, and library based research into the island's complex social and industrial history. Accreted overlaid narrative timelines were developed to parallel the geological layers in the stone. The characters were used to embody ideas and inhabit arguments such as The Loss Adjusters who attempt to calculate the monumental scale of loss from the island. Specific items were identified and gathered to furnish The Loss Adjusters' offices. The narratives articulate sculpture's physical presence as being in a dialectical relationship with absence; they extrapolate the idea that the island is in the process of being carved out, creating an inverted and unstable form, the antithesis of monuments made from Portland stone in many cities. The audience, who visited Portland to listen to the audio aspects of the storytelling, entered The Loss Adjusters' offices before walking through the landscape, into the quarries and across the stone.
Commissioned by Artangel and BBC Radio 4 Presented on Portland by Artangel in association with b-side Publication co-published by Artangel and Book Works with the support of The Henry Moore Foundation Artangel is supported by Arts Council England and The Company of Angels, Special Angels and Artangel International Circle During the production of this work Palmer was recipient of The Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists 2014
Press coverage: Mysterious Portland: on Katrina Palmer's 'End Matter', review by Karen Whiteson, 3:am, October 2015 'Katrina Palmer', review of End Matter by Gilda Williams, Art Forum, September 2015 'Interview with Katrina Palmer', interview by Jamie Sutcliffe, The White Review, September 2015 'Katrina Palmer: End Matter', review by Louise Darblay, Art Review online, July 2015 'Katrina Palmer's 'End Matter', review by Nicholas Korody, Archinet, June 2015 'End Matter?' review by Jamie Sutcliffe, Art Monthly, June 2015 'Katrina Palmer: End Matter?, review Beth Bramich, This is Tomorrow, June 2015 'End Matter by Katrina Palmer', review by David Caddy, Tears in the Fence, May 2015 'End Matter: Katrina Palmer explores the source of Portland stone', review by Tom Overton, Apollo, May 2015 'Katrina Palmer: the artist who has mined a rich seam of Nothingness.' Interview by Miranda Sawyer, Observer, April 2015 Dorset Echo feature on End Matter, April 2015. Speaker on End Matter at conferences and symposia 2014-15 Royal Institute of British Architects, London: In conversation with Elizabeth Price 28/4/2015 B-Side, Portland, Dorset 8/10/2015: Keynote speaker at conference 'The Excursionist'. Henry Moore Institute, Leeds 18/6/2014: Panel speaker at public symposium 'Does Contemporary Art Need Sculpture?'
The Quarryman?s Daughters audio files were adapted and presented alongside photographic items from The Loss Adjuster?s offices to create the work The Quarryman?s Daughter?s arrangement no. 4 shown at the group show The Weight of Data, Tate Britain, London 2015 A special edition of the End Matter book was publishe
Reality Flickers 2013 - MOT International, London
Death, sex, loss and sculpture collide in a melodrama beginning with an encounter between the protagonist, Reality Flickers, and the Heart Beast, otherwise known as ‘the dog’, ‘the trickster’. All that remains is a retrieved oversized steel locker and the reverberant narrative in its walls.
In Reality Flickers found and imagined objects provide the catalyst for obscure internal narratives and critical speculation. Combining writing, installed audio recording and live performance, Palmer’s practice relocates sculpture within shifting, capricious worlds and fictional spaces.
Katrina Palmer presents... dubious objects, made-up texts, readings and performances 2011 - Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland
A solo exhibition of everyday furnishings and related live storytelling, including the curation of events featuring the following invited guest artists: Francesco Pedraglio, Jefford Horrigan, Claire Makhlouf Carter and Stewart Home.